Transport for London’s (TfL) headquarters will be the scene of a protest by black cab drivers today. The action is a demonstration of the simmering tensions between traditional cabbies and modern firms like Uber, which show no sign of dying down.
Black cab drivers are represented by the London Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), Unite the Union, the RMT union or the National Taxi Association.
However, today’s protest is being organised by a splinter group called the United Cabbies Group, perhaps indicating some frustration with the representatives from the drivers.
The man behind the protest, Len Martin, explained to City A.M. that today’s action was part of a campaign to get recommendations around enforcing tighter taxi legislation made by the Greater London Assembly (GLA) at the end of last year brought in.
Martin describes the report, called Future Proof, as “absolutely damning” of the way TfL currently fails to protect London’s black cabs. “We have a regulator that fails to regulate,” he said.
This escalation in action comes just days after London Mayor, and newly elected Uxbridge MP, Boris Johnson pushed for City Hall to have further powers to limit the number of minicabs in the city.
TfL insist that almost everything proposed in the Future Proof report is done or timetabled to be done. TfL’s chief operating officer for surface transport Garrett Emmerson said: “There is absolutely no justification for this protest because we are already doing the very things they are calling for. Just like the previous protest on Oxford Street, it will achieve nothing other than to disrupt life and business in London.”
This is not placating the cabbies though. Martin is threatening that 2,500 drivers will head towards Victoria tomorrow, and that “the whole area will grind to a halt”.
TfL is more sceptical about the numbers, saying only 100 attended a protest last week at City Hall.
Either way, the action will almost certainly be much smaller than the protest against Uber, which brought Whitehall to a standstill last summer.
The US firm, which allow rides to be hailed within minutes via a smart phone app, is a bone of contention with traditional cabbies. The protest today is not specifically about Uber, but it’s clear the black cab drivers are threatened by the upstart, which they do not think plays fair.
A Uber spokesperson said: “Every driver using Uber abides by the same regulations as everyone else; they are all fully licensed by TfL and covered by commercial, documented insurance.”
Ironically, Uber now offers the option to hail a black cab from the app. The Uber spokesperson added: “Hundreds of Black Taxi drivers use Uber to earn more and we have no wish to see the iconic cab disappear from London’s streets.”
Tech innovation means that both black cabs and the regulator struggle to keep up. For the iconic vehicle, it’s a journey that seemingly only has one destination.